As a teacher in South Korea, Yanghee Kim gradually realized that her daily work in the classroom was robbing her of her joy of teaching.
Day in and day out, month after month and year after year, she recited the same information to her students, and her classroom time was so busy she didn’t have time to actually interact with the students in a meaningful way.
“I was lecturing at the kids all of the class hours, and thinking, ‘I could do better than this,’ ” Kim says. “I didn’t know if the students were listening to me or not.”
She turned to computers as a possible solution to this problem, designing software to do some of the recitation of classroom material.
“I have found that using a computer is so humanistic because I was able to talk to my students personally. Now I can walk around and observe,” she says. “I saw that a computer can change our classrooms, and, since that time, I have become a technology advocate.”
Currently an associate professor of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University, Kim has been named the NIU College of Education’s new LD and Ruth G. Morgridge Endowed Chair in Teacher Education and Preparation. She starts in January.
Founded in 1995, the Morgridge Chair emphasizes innovation and advancement in teacher education, particularly in relation to the integration of technology in classroom practice.
“My responsibilities here at NIU are what I have dreamed about,” Kim says. “My research agenda is important, but I love to promote research collaboration between diverse research interests and to be a catalyst for collaborative education research, which should be, by nature, interdisciplinary.”
Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, heralds Kim’s “innovative, creative forward-thinking” approach.
“We’re thrilled to have Yanghee join us because of her research to understand how cutting-edge technologies can be used to make education equalized and inclusive,” Elish-Piper says.
“The Morgridge Endowed Chair position focuses on moving the field of teacher education forward, and we believe that Yanghee is uniquely positioned to leverage this opportunity to benefit not only NIU but our school district partners,” Elish-Piper adds. “Her work is extremely innovative and interdisciplinary, which will allow her to work collaboratively with students and faculty in the College of Education as well as around campus and with faculty and students at other universities.”
Kim came to the United States in 2000 to pursue graduate studies in instructional technology at Florida State University, where she earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Learning Systems and a M.S. in Instructional Systems Design.
She joined the Utah State faculty in 2004, and in January of the same year, was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for a project designing avatar-based instructional teaching tools. More recently, she was awarded a 2016 grant titled, “Inclusive Design for Engaging all Learners (IDEAL): Designing Technology for Cultural Brokering.” IDEAL explores another cutting-edge technology: the use of robots as teaching tools.
As principal investigator, that NSF grant comes with her to NIU until its conclusion in 2019. She will tap the NIU faculty to serve as co-principal investigators; she also is planning a related workshop on campus in January.
Her passion for the use of classroom technology is strong.
“These advanced technologies can help us address some needs we human instructors have,” Kim says. “These robots and computers never get tired of repeating information over and over. The robot is social bias-free. The robot can talk in English or in the children’s own language – say, Spanish – and the children know it’s OK for them to not be fluent in another language. It places different groups in equal status.”
Children who “pretend to understand” to stop a teacher’s questions do not fool a robot, she says. Meanwhile, she adds, the robots can film facial expressions and record voices to provide teachers with video and audio evidence of how children are reacting to and absorbing the lessons.
Now that she is shifting gears, Kim is eager to work with NIU’s partner school districts and teachers “to identify their needs and to drive research to address their needs.”
She also expects to foster cross-disciplinary research across the NIU campus, and to secure more external funding to support that scholarship, all of which will advance her goal of teaching each new generation.
“Education is about nurturing life. I was born in South Korea, and in Asian countries, they value education a lot,” she says, adding that she plans to build up the educational capacity in Illinois classrooms to nurture a new generation of students.
“In my teen years, I thought to myself, ‘Where do I want to commit my capacity?’ It was nurturing life,” she adds. “I vacillated between doctor and teacher. I decided that education is more about working people’s intellect – working people’s minds – and I thought that might be more important for them.”